The Power of Self-Discipline and Why It Matters for Productivity


Hearing the words ‘self-discipline’ might be scary, but you’ll be thankful after practicing it. Self-discipline keeps you from slouching in front of the TV all night and choosing to grind at the gym instead. It allows you to accomplish valuable work, care for yourself, and foster productivity, self-care, kindness, and loyalty. 

Like anything else, self-discipline can be shaped through practice. Coupled with a small amount of daily progress toward achieving something is what self-discipline is all about. This article will give you a clear understanding of the concept of self-discipline and provide you with strategies to develop them.

What is self-discipline?

According to Galla & Duckworth (2015), a self-disciplined person relies on healthy habits to stick to and enable positive life outcomes. 

Self-discipline helps achieve long-term or higher-order goals by forgoing short-term pleasures. For example, individuals with high self-control are more likely to choose a boring task with long-term valued outcomes over a fun task without beneficial results. This shows that most behaviors connected to success and a productive life require self-discipline.

In the work setting, a study showed self-discipline as not being influenced and imposed by supervisors or managers; instead, it comes from one’s attitude. When individuals in an organization have this attitude, it shapes and develops the culture of self-discipline, which will ultimately lead to increased productivity.

Self-discipline and self-control

Self-discipline is an individual’s capacity to work toward long-term goals and resist temptations actively. Self-discipline is similar to self-control, which American Psychological Association defines as the ability to command one’s behavior to opt for a greater long-term gain against the short-term. Moreover, qualities associated with self-discipline include a strong will, determination, hard work, patience, logic, self-control, persistence, and consistency.

Researchers believe that self-control is equally beneficial for desired and undesired behavior. It may operate in two ways — either supporting the initiation of goal-directed behavior or inhibiting impulsive behavior. Self-control can also help people do what they are supposed to do or shouldn’t do. 

According to Bilginoğlu & Yozgat’s (2019) findings, self-discipline can be a positive effort that helps develop thoughts, actions, and habits. It is the art of self-control and self-reliance, which empowers a person to stick to their decisions and propels the individual towards achieving the set goals. 

Moreover, this is related to De Ridder & Gillebaart’s (2017) study, where people with high self-control employ different strategies for dealing with conflict. Specifically, self-control goes hand in hand with an efficient goal-striving strategy that involves little effort. 

Why is self-discipline difficult for some people?

Flinders University (2019) reveals that self-discipline can be challenging for some since people tend to have well-worn emotional and behavioral pathways that are hard to break. These emotional habits often have roots in childhood — when people first learn how to deal with emotions. These strategies then get reinforced with repeated use. By the time individuals are adults, establishing new habits means confronting these well-worn habits. 

Furthermore, Cobb-Clark et al. (2021) stated that people with self-control problems are less likely to make choices that are initially costly but beneficial in the long term, such as investing in education, saving, or exercising. Self-control problems also have significant relevance for motivation because they can distort effort provision in the workplace. 

Ways to build self-discipline to boost productivity

After understanding self-discipline, you may wonder, “So, how do you build it effectively?” Here are six steps to start developing your self-discipline:

Set clear and actionable goals

It is easier to be disciplined if you know what you are doing it for. Using The SMART rule of setting goals can be an effective way to help you achieve goals. It is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely defined. Whether it is a long-term or a short-term goal, it helps you take ideas to action.

Start by being disciplined about something you love

Practicing discipline with something you love will get you further. Showing up to things you enjoy doing is easier than in something you do not. If you have to convince yourself to keep that commitment, you might be on a challenging track. Try to settle into an accessible daily and weekly routine to build the habit.

Take things one by one

Being disciplined with one simple task rather than a big goal is always easier. If you accomplish a small positive result, you will get a boost of self-esteem and self-confidence that will help you perform better on the next task. If the next task is a success, the succeeding ones will go even smoother because you will be experiencing a domino effect of accomplishments.

Don’t wait for the right time

If you wait for your schedule to be convenient and your mood to be in the perfect state, you might never get started on the things that need to be done. When developing self-discipline, stop making excuses that can leave you with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. Embrace every moment as being just what you need to show your best performance. 

Exercise your willpower every day

Every human has a threshold, and no one is always disciplined. Studies revealed that mental exhaustion causes increased fatigue, leading to reduced self-efficacy to exert self-control. This exhaustion leaves you “fatigued” as you meet another challenge. 

However, you can face this situation one step ahead by training your willpower. Experts define willpower as the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse. It is a predominant source to help you choose long-term fulfillment over instant gratification.  

According to studies, willpower is the part of your brain that reminds you to do what you need to do, even though you don’t feel like it.  And you can exercise your willpower by finding the ideal balance between your wants and needs.

Visualize your desired outcome

Visualizing positive outcomes gives you positive feelings that make it easier to overcome fear and take actionable steps toward achieving your goals. Your brain can not differentiate between real and imaginary thoughts. So, when you visualize something clearly, your brain chemistry changes as if you have already experienced it.

In conclusion

Self-discipline is about resisting momentary pleasure to achieve higher-order gains in the long run. Like anything else, self-discipline can be shaped through practice with a small amount of daily progress toward achieving something. With precise goals and the right amount of willpower, everyone can get further in terms of leading healthy, happy, and productive lives.

If you would like to take your reading on self-discipline further, visit the Personal Productivity Science Labs. Using the research of the Institute for Life Management Science, the lab produces courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other learning materials. Check out the Personal Productivity Science Labs today.

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